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Gabriel Plassat: “Innovation is the ability to change practices on a broad scale”

An engineer by training, Gabriel Plassat worked on combustion engines for several years before focusing on the study of new energy systems in the mid-2000s. He joined the French Agency for Environment and Energy Management (ADEME), where he is studying innovation related to digital technology in the mobility sector. Here he responds to questions from cH2ange regarding the importance of new usages in the energy transition.

How does ADEME envisage future mobility?

Gabriel Plassat, Mobility Expert at ADEME

ADEME was one of the first actors to put a new parameter onto the table: the introduction of mobility as a service, where the people or organizations financing the vehicles are not the drivers themselves.

This concept radically modifies the specifications of tomorrow’s car. Vehicles made available by municipalities (for example, Autolib in Paris) are blueprints of this type of service: cars can be light, efficient and non-polluting. The operator that funds the vehicles can insist on these characteristics since he or she is in a strong negotiating position with the car manufacturer with whom orders are placed.

“ADEME was one of the first actors to put a new parameter onto the table: the introduction of mobility as a service”

In future, households will own fewer cars. They will instead buy an increasing number of mobility packages. They will decide what is the best mode of transport for each journey. And this will often be cycling, walking or public transport.

Can the energy transition rely solely on these behavioral changes, or is a technological change also required?

Until now, the majority of mobility funding has been targeted at large industrial companies to attain incremental progress. It is much more difficult to provide help to small unknown actors.

“Digital technology actors are the best placed to connect to the needs of citizens”

However, it is these smaller actors who are at the cutting edge of the major changes currently underway. Uber, Blablacar: these companies are changing the way people move around today. Innovation is the ability to change practices on a broad scale. Digital technology actors are the best placed to connect to the needs of citizens, to exchange with them and to develop part of the adapted solutions.

With this in mind, we have created the Fabrique des Mobilités.

We therefore decided to provide entrepreneurs with organized resources including means of calculation, testing grounds, skills, helping them to find partnerships… all with a view to help them save time. We want to see ten times more entrepreneurs in this sector.

Our approach aims to develop “commons”: resources shared by actors that make it possible to share costs and development times, so as to reduce the barriers to innovation and make this ecosystem more fertile.

This is the principle of open source software applied to the mobility sector.

Do you have a concrete example?

We are working on the development of an open source connected box. We are convinced that data generated by connected cars must not remain in the hands of the manufacturers. The open source box will produce data of general interest: average speed, distance traveled, consumption…

“Today we are at an average of 1.2 people per car. This is a catastrophic figure!”

One of the big issues we must address today relates to the management of these commons. The challenge is to find appropriate licenses, with the right balance between openness and privacy. We must be able to protect what has been produced while also encouraging sharing. We will probably develop a specific license for the Fabrique des Mobilités.

What are ADEME’s objectives in terms of energy transition?

We are working on scenarios to achieve the “4 factor”. This is a greenhouse gas emissions reduction of four times that of 1990 levels. To achieve this, we must activate all the parameters: vehicle fuel consumption, carbon content of the energy used, and also the number of people transported. Today we are at an average of 1.2 people per car. This is a catastrophic figure! If we are successful in changing practices to reach 2 people per car, we will benefit from the equivalent of 40 years of technological progress. We must take action on both fronts.

The problem is that we, as consumers, are not rational in our choices in terms of transportation. Our choices are not the result of a calculation of the real cost, nor the environmental impact. Here we touch on the subject of the capacity of consumers to change their habits. This is what engineers refer to when they talk about the “acceptability” of a technology.

The other major issue concerns the transport of goods, even though it is often obscured by passenger transportation. All forecasts today are based on an increase in GDP in the years ahead and therefore an increase in the number of goods transported. Even if logistical progress is achieved, this upward trend is problematic. One way to solve this challenge would be to impose quotas on carriers or taxes per tonne transported. This would allow greater optimization of supply chains and would send a signal to the consumer on the impact of his or her purchase decision in terms of greenhouse gas emissions.

Who could initiate such measures?

Until now, it was thought that the creation of standards was the responsibility of the State. Today, cities are beginning to regain control over these issues. They position themselves at the frontier of innovation to increase their attractiveness. This can be seen in London, Singapore, Paris… The Paris City Hall started from the observation that there was a public health problem, that the public no longer believes in standards enacted by States who do not fulfill their obligations. Therefore, it is working to create a standard on a local level to quantify and qualify the actual emissions of cars.

Also, it would not be impossible to imagine that a private actor could take hold of these issues. This has already been seen with the Euro NCAP standard, which is awarded by a private company. In future, a car manufacturer could develop a technology that enables real time environmental performance of a given vehicle to be observed, to achieve better transparency. Each energy sector could then be judged on neutral and comparable criteria.